National 24-Hour Challenge 2014: Ride Report

Way off this blog’s typical subject matter, but ultramarathon cycling has been a longtime passion of mine — and in recent years has helped forge an important connection with my kids. Although it has nothing to do with farming, I wanted to share my “ride of a lifetime” experience participating in the National 24-Hour Challenge earlier this month.

The event is billed as a “personal best” challenge, not a race, and it’s been held for over thirty years now. Riders come from all over the country, and from overseas, but most of the 300 or so participants live in Michigan or other Great Lakes states. The idea is to ride as many miles as you can in 24 hours, from 8am Saturday to 8am Sunday. Take as many breaks as you want, but the clock never stops ticking. Does that sounds intriguing? Crazy? Actually, it was an absolute blast.

And this is what I looked like at the end:

After every major cycling event, I try to write up a personal “ride report” while my thoughts are fresh. Years later, when I’m preparing to participate in that event (or a similar event) again, those notes often prove invaluable. My hope is that some other aspiring 24-Hour participant will find this report, and find my experiences useful. Be forewarned that I have deliberately included much more detail than a typical published ride report would include, and it is significantly longer than any other post I’ve put up, but I wanted to share everything that I wished I could have known before going off to participate in my own first N24HC.

Here we go:

My first 24 Hour event went quite well, and was a very interesting experience. My legs are certainly sore, but overall I feel pretty good. Most importantly, I stopped riding because I simply decided I’d done enough and was happy with what I’d done ─ not because my body gave out, or because I ran out of gas, or any other reason. This is in marked contrast to the only other 22+ hour event I’d ever done; by the end of the 1997 Los Angeles Grand Tour Triple Century, I was falling asleep on the bike, in gastric distress, shivering uncontrollably, and at times wishing for a catastrophic mechanical issue (or even a collision) to allow me to end the ride without actually “giving up.” I’ve learned an immense amount about bike fit and nutrition in recent years, and it definitely paid off this weekend. I discovered it’s possible to do a triple century and actually feel good at the end. I definitely want to go back next year and rack up even more miles.

My goal for the event was, above all, to “see what it’s all about” and do my best. In terms of specific mileage, my absolute minimum goal was a double century. Beyond that, I would see how I was doing and make the call; I just had no idea how I would be feeling. I’d only done about 1,600 miles of training year to date, and my longest training ride was less than 100 miles (Calvin’s Challenge, over a month previously). But I have done 30 double century rides in my lifetime, so I know how to pace myself and deal with the mental challenge of long hours in the saddle. If I were feeling good, my next goal would be a triple century ─ and, if possible, beating the 307 miles I’d done in the 1997 Grand Tour. Put another way: I would be satisfied with a double century, extremely happy with 310, but still quite pleased with any significant number of miles beyond 200.

The event’s central hub is Thornapple Kellogg Middle School (TKMS), in Middleville, Michigan. There were three loops: 123.9 miles, 24 miles, and 7.6 miles. All three loops started and finished at TKMS. Loop 1 went out in the country to the east and south, and had three checkpoints / rest stops along the way. Loop 2 went mostly south, jogged to the west, came way back up north, and then cut east to the finish. It was quite scenic, going past some lakes and state recreation areas, and had one checkpoint about seven miles or so in. Loop 3 was essentially a big rectangle around the school on straight country roads, with no checkpoint other than the end. The intersections were staffed by police, directing the minimal traffic and waving cyclists through all night.  

Every participant had to ride one Loop 1, and at least one Loop 2, before starting on Loop 3. Once you moved to Loop 3, your “daytime mileage” was complete and you couldn’t go back to Loop 2. And after 7:15pm, they wouldn’t let you start another Loop 2 ─ you had to move to Loop 3. I liked this design: it allows the rider to knock off big chunks of mileage during the day, then take as many small bites as he/she feels up to taking during the night ─ all the while never very far from a rest or help. Also, with the night loop, every rider was funneled into a small section of roads. It meant plenty of opportunities to ride with other people. Also, it meant other people were always in sight. If I’d had an accident, or a catastrophic mechanical failure, I knew there were lots of other people nearby to help and/or call for assistance.

I arrived Friday evening, and set up a sleeping bag on an air mattress in the gym. There were several dozen of us who took that option; most of the rest pitched tents on the school grounds. Arriving the night before was a good move, because it allowed time to make sure all my equipment was ready. Got up at 6am on Saturday morning, which gave plenty of time before the 8am start.

Temperature at the start was chilly but not cold, and promised to get quite sunny and warm later, so I wore an extra layer under my jersey that could be easily ditched, but just shorts (no tights or leg warmers) on my legs. The weather ended up being nearly perfect. Just the right temperature during the day, with negligible winds ever.
I lined up early, so was able to grab onto the tail of the lead group right from the beginning at 8am. We rode at a very fast ─ but not at all uncomfortable ─ pace. The first several miles were through the country in a huge pack, and I almost felt like I was in the Tour de France peloton. Especially enjoyed the locals, who’d set up folding chairs at the ends of their driveways to wave and cheer as we went past.

A few miles later we reached downtown Middleville; it’s a cute little town, and a local bagpipe band played a tune as we went by. 

Al Stover Photography: 24 Hour Challange Start &emdash;
Cruising through Middleton
There was a sizable climb right after we left town, which actually felt good. The group came back together after that climb, and I stuck with them all the way to the first checkpoint / rest stop (34.4 miles). I didn’t keep statistics for that leg of the event, but our average speed was solidly north of 20 MPH.

At the checkpoint, volunteers punch a hole in each rider’s bib number indicating they’ve completed that first leg. They had lots of “punchers,” and I got “punched” quickly, but the hard core lead riders were already blasting back onto the road as I went to refill my water bottles. I’d completely emptied one bottle, and the other was half empty. I added drink powder to the bottles, and a nice lady volunteer topped them off with water, but I wasn’t nearly as fast as the riders with support crews. By the time I was pulling out, the lead group was way down the road. I sprinted, but quickly realized I wasn’t going to catch them. I rode for a mile or two with some other good riders, but they pulled away and tried to reconnect with the leaders.

And here I had to make a critical decision: try to stay on their wheels, or back off to a more manageable pace? I chose the latter. The way they were riding, I knew I’d be cooked if I tried to keep up. So I let them go, and immediately knew I’d made the right decision. I settled into what I knew was a good pace for me, stretched my arms on the aero bars, and enjoyed riding by myself for a while.

I wasn’t alone for long.  I soon caught up with a nice guy from the Chicago suburbs, who was riding for the 14thtime. He told me something very wise, drawn from his long experience doing this event: like me, he wasn’t joining those guys sprinting to catch the lead group, because that would mean running away from another group that would soon enough catch us from behind. I agreed this made total sense. We rode along at a comfortable pace, usually side by side, and had a nice conversation ─ all the while looking back and wondering what was taking that “other group” so long to reach us. Finally it did get there, maybe fifteen miles from the second checkpoint, and we jumped right in.
Al Stover Photography: 24 Hour Sission Road &emdash;

A few miles from that checkpoint, our group crested a hill and began blasting down the other side. But while shifting gears, I somehow managed to drop the chain off the small chainring and onto the bottom bracket shell. No matter how I fiddled with the front derailleur, I couldn’t get it back up onto the chainring. So, chain dangling, I began looking for a safe place to pull off and fix it right. I warned the riders around me that I’d be losing momentum, and tried to steer off to the left shoulder, but the pack of fast-descending riders blocked me. I had to wait for everyone to pass before I could pull off, dismount, and reset the chain. Everything was fine after that ─ except I was now basically alone. I really wish I could’ve stuck with that group; the pace was perfect.
At Checkpoint #2 (71.7 miles), after getting my number punched, I finally used the toilet for the first time. I also removed my thermal undershirt, refilled my bottles, and then got back on the road. I wasn’t rushing, though, because the group I’d been riding with earlier (before the dropped chain incident) had long departed. I soon settled into a comfortable solo pace, and rode with a couple of other guys for a few miles, but we hit a really big climb. I did alright on that climb, but couldn’t stay with the others for long after. The whole leg was generally uphill, broken up with a few small descents. Rode pretty much solo all the way to Checkpoint #3, 96.3 miles.

By now the weather was getting quite warm. Not super-hot, but definitely warm enough so I was feeling it. At Checkpoint #3 I again used the toilet and topped off my bottles, and took some Endurolytes capsules. Then I got back on the road. The final leg wasn’t that difficult; it was generally a lot more downhill than uphill, especially so from the checkpoint to mile 110 or so ─ then it was generally level to the TKMS main hub (Checkpoint 4). I finished Lap 1 in just under 6 and a half hours of riding time, or 19.1 MPH on the bike. According to my Garmin, Loop 1 had 4,945 feet of climbing. That’s a little more than the entire Seattle to Portland double century.

I started my first of three circuits around Lap 2 at 2:45, meaning I’d spent about 15 minutes off the bike all day so far. That’s really good for me; on long events, I usually spend too much time at rest stops. Loop 2 was generally downhill or level to the one checkpoint, about seven miles in. From there, it climbed for a mile or so, then we had lots of generally downhill terrain for a few miles. Then it climbed a little before leveling off to the finish. According to my Garmin, Loop 2 had 726 feet of climbing (that’s an average of my three trips around it.)

My first trip around Lap 2 was quite strong, averaging 17.6 MPH. Total riding time was 1:21:16. I rode with a really nice older guy who was on a vintage bike. Turns out, he’d worked in the bike industry in the 1980s and 1990s, so we had a very lively conversation about classic / vintage bikes and the whole cycling scene of that era, which is when I’d become active in the sport. Really made the time fly. But by the end of this loop, the afternoon heat was getting to me ─ plus, I’d been on the bike for all but 15 minutes of the last eight hours.

I took a good 20 minute break, had a hot dog, then departed for my second Loop 2 at 4:23pm. I was pretty much on my own this time, and rode significantly slower (16.6 MPH). With 172 miles now under my belt, I decided it was time for a longer (roughly half-hour) break. Then, refreshed, I climbed back in the saddle at 6:21pm and had one more good Loop 3. Averaged 17.2 MPH this time, and I was definitely feeling better. I pulled into the TKMS checkpoint at about 7:45, and surrendered the daytime portion of my rider number. Total daytime miles: 195.9.

Got back on the course right about 8pm for my first Loop 3; I did four of these in a row, with usually just a few minutes between them, before taking a good “lunch break” of nearly 40 minutes at about 10pm. My speeds on these four circuits varied by quite a bit, and depended on the quality of who I was drafting or riding with. My first was slow (16.6 MPH), but the next two were steadily stronger (17.0 and 17.6), before dropping to 16.5 (I should add that it was also starting to get really dark during this fourth circuit).
The locals who lived along Loop 3 were wonderful. Lots of them sat out on their porches or driveways well into the night, cheering us as we went by. (Some of the little kids were clearly up way past their bedtimes.) As it got later and later, and darker and darker, it got nicer and nicer knowing that someone else was out there and pulling for you.  

After the long break, I did a total of eight more laps before 3am. Most of these took between 28 and 30 minutes to complete, and I was generally on my own for the first five laps. I didn’t mind riding alone, actually. There were plenty of other riders out there, so I didn’t feel isolated, but it seemed everyone had settled into his or her own unique pace. I passed a lot of people, and got passed by a lot of stronger riders, and didn’t feel the need to chase anyone. At this point, I was just grinding out mile after mile, at my own pace, trying to keep focused. And despite the darkness, the roads were smooth enough and my lights were bright enough for me to feel comfortable using aero bars. Besides, we had a virtually full moon.

Toward the end of that fifth lap, I connected with a father/daughter tandem team from Ohio, that I’d met and chatted with the previous evening. They were on a terrific pace, so I drafted them for three straight laps. My time dropped to 25-26 minutes for each of these three laps.

But at that point, they announced they’d reached their mileage goal of something like 255, and were all finished for the event. I was sitting at 287 miles, myself. The triple century mark was definitely in sight, but I would need two more laps to actually reach it. Plus a third lap to break my all-time mileage record. It was roughly 3am, I was getting sleepy, and I had very little desire to do two or three additional laps in the dark by myself. So, I decided this was the perfect time for a good nap. I pulled off my jersey, and set my alarm for 6am, which would give plenty of time for three laps before the 8am cutoff.

It felt really good to crash onto a sleeping bag and air mattress, and to simply “let go” of everything. I was asleep within minutes.

I awakened at about 4:45, and considered trying to go back to sleep for the next hour. But I was too wide awake, and decided I should make the most of it. Pulled on my jersey, and was back outside shortly before 5am. First thing I noticed: it seemed MUCH colder than when I’d gone in for a nap. My muscles were really tight, and I was shaking hard with the shock of stepping out into the chilly pre-dawn. But at least the sky was starting to get a little light. I found my long-fingered gloves in the car, then forced myself to set out on the course.

I rode a total of four more laps after the nap, pretty much one right after the other, with no more than a few minutes off the bike to use the toilet or drop my lights (once the sun came up). The first lap was my slowest of the entire event, at over 30 minutes (15.0 MPH). My muscles finally began warming up about 5 miles into that lap, and my next two laps were steadily faster (16.3 and 16.5 MPH). I was actually feeling pretty good. The final lap was a touch slower (15.4 MPH), but at this point I knew I was just cruising to the finish and in no hurry.

Trying to decide if I should do one last Loop 3

I pulled into TKMS at about 7:15 AM, with 317.5 miles. I knew I easily had time for one more lap. And I easily could’ve gone back out on the course for one more lap. But here’s the thing: I just didn’t care. I’d gotten my triple century. I’d beaten my all-time mileage record. I was really proud of what I’d accomplished. In the truest sense of the phrase, I simply didn’t feel likedoing any more miles. So I didn’t. I chose to end the ride on my own terms, at a time that was my own decision. 

I turned in my rider number, ate a Recovery Bar, and began packing up my things and loading the car. I had all that done shortly after 8am, when the event officially ended, then went to the cafeteria to wait for breakfast.

The breakfast and award ceremony were nice, but I had to leave early (9:45) because I needed to get to Charlotte in time for 11am Mass. The drive was a little difficult, given my level of exhaustion, but the nap had given me enough “reserve” to make it okay. I barely managed to stay awake all the way through Mass, then drove to my father-in-law’s house (another hour or so away). After greeting everyone, and enjoying a bowl of potato soup, I went down hard for a long nap on the couch.

Some additional thoughts and notes about specific aspects of the event:
Support: Most riders and their families / support crews pitched tents on the school grounds. Then, when the riders came through the circle drive at the school, their crew could simply hand them whatever they needed and the person could swing right around to start another loop. Many riders also had a crew that met them at the three Loop 1 rest stops, to provide fresh supplies quickly. I didn’t have a crew, in the first place because it would’ve been a burden on the family in the midst of spring gardening season ─ and I didn’t want to impose on friends for a service that, at the end of the day, wasn’t really essential for me. Yes, having a crew would have saved some time and allowed me to get back on the course more quickly. It would have saved me trips to the car, rummaging around in the trunk, etc, etc. But I wasn’t trying to set a course record. I was just trying to see how many miles I could accumulate ─ all the while having a good time. 

Al Stover Photography: 24 Hour Observations &emdash;

Besides, I ended up getting “adopted” by a really nice guy named Dave, who was acting as crew for the father/daughter tandem team that I rode with on the night loop. I met the three of them on Friday night at the school, had a nice conversation, and Dave invited me to lean on him for help. This was especially nice at Checkpoint #2 on the first Loop; I was able to leave my long-sleeved shirt with Dave, and he helped get my water bottles filled. Then, late at night, back at TKMS, he frequently asked if I was doing okay and if I needed anything. If I had it to do over again, I would have left a small “stash” with him of the supplies I most often needed, instead of retrieving them from the car trunk each time. At the time, I didn’t want to impose. But now I realize it wouldn’t have been an imposition on him.

Fuel: I can’t say enough good things about Hammer Nutrition products — and not just the products themselves, but the knowledge base their website provides about fueling, supplements, and electrolyte replacement. Comparing my fueling today to when I was riding double centuries 15-20 years ago, there’s simply no comparison.

Hammer was a sponsor of the N24HC, and had some product samples available at checkpoints, but I brought my own supplies because I’d so fine-tuned the combo that works for me.

My primary fuel is a mix of Orange-flavored HEED and Vanilla-flavored Vegan Protein powder; this provides a soy-free version of their flagship product, Perpetuem. I have a soy sensitivity, and when I rely on soy as a primary protein source I get severe gastric distress. After long hours of training and experimenting, I’ve found the perfect formula: four scoops HEED, plus one scoop Vegan Protein, divided into three equal parts, with one part per water bottle. I mix the powder up in bulk, ahead of time, and measure the servings out as needed using two of the small scoops that come with a tub of HEED. Each serving provides approximately 170 calories. I used Hammer Espresso-flavored Gel (80 calories per serving) to hit my target of 250 calories per hour. The gel flask fits nicely in a “holster” that uses heavy duty Velcro to mount to the bike’s stem. With the flask always right in front of me, the stuff was always easily accessible and I never forgot to eat it. Also, I avoided getting gel all over my jersey pockets.

My cockpit

I started the ride with two water bottles filled with my fuel mix and a full gel flask on the stem. In my pockets were a tube of Endurolytes (electrolyte capsules), a bag of fig bars, and several small Ziploc baggies with individual servings of fuel mix powder. Another small Ziploc bag held my cell phone, a credit card, about $30 in small bills, and the key fob to the car’s trunk. (The key itself remained in my duffel bag in the school gym for the entire event, as a backup in case I ever lost the fob or accidentally locked it in the car.) I should have also carried a tube of Race Caps Supreme (RCS); I instead had to retrieve some from the car’s trunk every time I came around to the school.

I took so many Endurolyte and RCS capsules, I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many I consumed. RCS is an excellent antioxidant, which helps quell the onset of cramps and fatigue. The two supplements worked really well for me; I never suffered from cramps, or felt any of symptoms that come from electrolyte depletion — and it was a pretty warm day.

The extra drink powder was more than enough to get me through Loop 1. Back at the car, I had pre-mixed more fuel using every water bottle I owned, and had put these on ice in a cooler. When riding Loop 2, I would go through about one and a half bottles ─ but to be safe, I always wanted to pull onto the course with two full bottles. When coming back around to TKMS, I would swap the empty bottle for a full chilled one, add some fuel powder to the depleted bottle, and top it off with ice and water. This was inexact, but seemed to work. What would make more sense next year: each time through, get two fresh full bottles from the cooler, and place the partially-depleted bottle in the cooler. Then, the next time I had a partially-depleted bottle, I could pour the contents into the other partially-depleted bottle. On Loop 3, I only needed one bottle per two laps, so that was an easier swap. Regardless, though, having bottles pre-mixed and on ice was a great move and really streamlined things.

I took probably six 200mg ibuprofen tablets over the course of the event, starting after Loop 1. Never really developed serious aches or muscle pain; the ibuprofen helped head that off before anything could develop beyond initial symptoms.

Solid Food. As noted, I carried a small bag of fig bars in my jersey. However, I only ate two bars the whole day; I just wasn’t craving them. Back in the car, I had a cooler dedicated to the solid food I could potentially start craving as the day went on. I didn’t know what I’d want, so figured I should cover as many bases as possible: eight pre-cooked hot dogs that could be eaten cold, a few pieces of grilled chicken, and three pints of homemade potato soup. I ate one or two hot dogs, after Loop 1, mostly for the protein and to satisfy my craving for solid food. The hot dogs sat okay, but weren’t very appetizing. Certainly couldn’t eat more than two of them. I ate a piece of chicken sometime later in the evening, and was glad it was just a wing. It was certainly good, but I just didn’t have the appetite for anything larger. I think I ate a chunk of chicken breast early in the morning, but that whole time period was kind of a blur.

The pints of soup were packaged in separate hard plastic food storage containers with snapping lids. These are microwavable, and there was a microwave in the TKMS cafeteria. (And, yes, I did remember to bring a couple of spoons!) At 10pm, when I took my long (half-hour or so) “lunch” break, I warmed up one of these pints of soup. It was PERFECT, and gave a wonderful morale boost heading into four long hours of night riding. (Not to mention a nice, easily-swallowed and easily-digested boost of carbs and protein.)  As noted, I had another pint of soup on Sunday afternoon, as a post-ride recovery lunch. Again, really nice.

The local United Methodist Church sold all kinds of food in the cafeteria, I think until 2:30 or 3 AM. I bought a piece of pepperoni pizza at about 2am, two laps before I took my 3am nap. The pizza had sat for a while, and wasn’t that great, but at that point I didn’t really care. It was satisfying and provided some nice variety.

There was a spaghetti dinner the night before the event; that was excellent, and a nice chance to socialize with other riders. I chatted with a couple of veterans, who were very friendly and explained how the ride works. I also went to the pre-ride breakfast, Saturday morning, which was basically pancakes and a sausage patty. I’ll probably skip that next time; I think a bagel or muffin and some Hammer Gel would have been better. I never like a big meal right before a big event, and was too nervous to sit and eat much anyway.

Related to food, something else that made a big performance difference: I gave up alcohol for Lent (early March), and ─ apart from a few special occasions ─ never really started drinking again. My general energy level is significantly higher than it used to be, and I think removing alcohol from my diet was an important contributor.

Also related to diet: In the weeks and months approaching the event, my snacks went from bad-carb-intensive (especially corn chips), to good-protein-intensive (peanuts). I think this also helped with my general training and readiness for the event.

Lights: We had to have lights on by 9:30, which was about a half hour past sunset. I brought two Niterider rechargeable lights, a 600 lumen model and a 350 lumen model, that I’d picked up cheap on eBay. The idea was to charge one while using the other (neither light had enough power to make it all night), and also to have a backup in case something happened to one of the lights. Both lights use the same fixed base, so it was easy to swap them out.

Around 8:30, I mounted the 600 lumen light to the handlebar, and switched on my red tail light. To save battery power, I didn’t actually use the Niterider until 9pm or so. I also swapped my sunglasses for clear glasses. (I used a pair of cheap shooting glasses from Wal-Mart, and they were perfect.) Clear was a much better choice than yellow.
In the car, I had extra AAA batteries for the taillight, but I never needed them. I also brought a backup red taillight, and left it in the car, just in case something catastrophic happened to my other one. Even something as simple as the bike toppling over at a rest stop could potentially break the taillight. Without a backup, I would’ve been grounded until sunup.

All night, I used the lowest setting (200 lumens) on the 600 lumen Niterider ─ except when descending the one big hill. I usually clicked up to the full 600 lumen setting while coming down, then reduced the power after making the turn at the bottom of the hill. When riding with the 350, I usually used the middle (200 lumen) setting, but powered up to the full 350 lumens for descents.

I tended to swap the headlights (plug one in, and take the one that’d been charging) every time I went into the TKMS building to use the bathroom or get water. I was probably too aggressive about swapping out and charging up the various lights, and probably wasted some time doing this, but really didn’t want to be caught out on the course with a dying battery. And I never was.

Computer: Speaking of battery management, my old Garmin Edge 500 computer has only about 18 hours of battery power ─ so I knew it wouldn’t make it the whole way. But when the Edge 500 is plugged in to wall power, it goes into “charging mode” and can reset one’s current activity. Scouring cycling forums, I found a solution: Gomadic makes a AA-battery powered charger that doesn’t trigger the Garmin’s charging mode. I intended to ride with the Gomadic plugged in as the Garmin’s battery got low, but that wasn’t necessary. Just plugging in the Gomadic during rest stops gave a nice boost in short order. As the night wore on, I began carrying the Gomadic in my jersey pocket so it would be close at hand. Lesson learned: any time I’m going to be at any rest stop for more than a few minutes, plug the charger in and boost the Garmin’s reserve. The Gomadic charges the Garmin so fast, it was never necessary to ride with the thing plugged in.

Gearing: I rode a 53-39 up front, and 12-25 11s cassette in the back. It was more than adequate. Most of the hills were rollers, but there were a couple of really steep climbs. I think the biggest was a 13% grade, on Loop 1, and it went on for a while. Loop 2 was just rollers. Loop 3 had one good climb toward the end, which wasn’t too bad objectively, but it seemed to get steeper and steeper all night. I very seldom needed to go lower than my 21T cog (49 inch gear) on any hill. I think I used the 23T (45 inch gear) one time, on that especially big climb in Loop 1. I never touched my 25T. At the other end of the spectrum, I never spun out the 53 x 12 or wished I had an 11-tooth cog.

Other Hardware. I rode my Curtlo road bike, which has a True Temper S3 steel frame and a carbon fork. Short/shallow drop bars, with clip-on aero bars. I used the aero bars a lot when I was riding alone, especially on flatter sections. The extra set of hand positions was almost as nice as the ability to take a more efficient aerodynamic position on the bike, and helped stave off muscle aches. I rode a pair of brand new Continental Grand Prix 4000s 700×23 tires, inflated to about 110 PSI. The brand new tires gave a terrific road feel, and I didn’t have a single flat. I did carry a seat pack with two extra tubes, a set of tire levers, multi-tool, and patch kit, but didn’t open it all day. Carried a micro-pump clipped next to a water bottle cage. Had two spare tires in the car trunk, but obviously never needed them. Also had an extra set of wheels in the car, in case I broke a spoke or something, but never needed them. Even had rain gear, just in case. My mantra: better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. And the car has plenty of space.

Clothing: I wore lycra shorts all day and night. Short socks at the start, and a dark blue jersey on top of a ratty old thermal undershirt that could be discarded if necessary. At 10pm or so, when I took a half-hour or so break for potato soup, I changed clothes for night riding: longer socks, tights (over the same shorts), white turtleneck, and a white jersey. White clothing was a good idea, but changing jerseys in the middle of the event wasn’t: the rider number takes time to unpin and repin. Next time, I should wear a light-colored jersey all day and all night. That said, the tights and turtleneck made a huge difference, and were a big lesson I’d learned from the 1997 Grand Tour Triple: it gets cold at night, even when it’s warm during the day. When your body has been working hard for the last 15+ hours, it’s a real struggle to keep yourself warm ─ let alone have any energy for riding. I’m really glad I re-read my 1997 notes a few weeks ago, and planned accordingly. I’m not sure I would have remembered to pack warm clothes otherwise. (Maybe someday, just for chuckles, I’ll put up a blog post with my notes from that 1997 event.)

In 1997, I’d been so badly chilled and shaking so hard, the final 50 or so miles were pure misery. I’d resorted to stuffing plastic garbage bags under my jersey, but even that didn’t help much. Indeed, in the middle of the night at the current event, I saw someone who very much reminded me of my 1997 self: he was in the bathroom, dressed only in shorts and a jersey, hovering over the hand dryer, shivering, looking like he was hanging on for dear life. I wished I’d had an extra set of tights to loan him.
Long-fingered gloves weren’t really necessary at night, but would have been nice. I brought them, but they were out in the car and I didn’t really feel the need to find them until the morning. When I went back out on the course a little before 5am, after the long nap, I was very chilled. Found the long-fingered gloves, and they helped me get warmed back up. I wore them until the end. Next time, I should have the long gloves ready with my turtleneck and tights.

Improving the TKMS Rest Stop Routine:There really aren’t many comfortable places to sit down at TKMS, other than benches in the cafeteria. As the day wore on, I was very much wanting a place to sit and relax for 5-10 minutes, but there just wasn’t much. What I should do next time is set up a comfortable folding chair on the grass along the circle drive, next to my cooler (with pre-mixed bottles and ice, and perishable food I might want to snack on). I’d also want a small box with the other the other supplies I might need from time to time: lights, a few spare tubes, Hammer supplements, Gel, and drink mix, ibuprofen, Gomadic charger for the Garmin, clear riding glasses, tights, long-fingered gloves, fresh socks, and turtleneck. With all that stuff right there and ready to go, I don’t think I’ll need to go to the car for anything.

Results and Context
My Garmin reports a total on-bike time of 18:02:54. Average speed of 17.6 MPH. Maximum speed 40.2 MPH (first segment of Loop 1). Total climbing was 9,698 feet, very similar to the Grand Tour Highland Triple.

There were 265 solo upright riders. 227 were men and 38 were women. Six of us had 317.5 miles, and there were 62 people with more miles than that. Of those 62, 54 were men and 8 were women. My mileage equaled or beat 76% of men and 79% of women. Among all solo upright men, my 317.5 was the lowest mileage in the top quartile.

Overall averages for solo uprights: 251.4 (F) and 263 (M). The REALLY high mileages were logged by men, which skewed the male average higher. But the medians were virtually identical (254.3 and 255.5).

In my age class (M 45-59), there were 27 riders. Our average was 269.7 and the median was 263.1. So, members of our class logged more miles than the typical class. Only two other sizable classes had higher medians than ours: M50-54 (278) and M55-59 (299).

The best in our class was 426.3. I placed 7th out of the 27.
Looking Ahead: Next year, I’d like to reach 350 miles. That would require five additional trips around Loop 3, or about 2.5 additional hours on the bike ─ cutting my time off the bike from six hours to three-and-a-half. 

Possible? I’d sure like to find out!


When a person begins raising livestock, it’s remarkable how swiftly one’s attitude toward wildlife — especially potential predators — changes. Overnight, “cute” becomes “Quick! Don’t let it get away!” Especially after a time or two of witnessing the mayhem that those “cute” little critters are capable of inflicting. I’ll never forget the mornings I’ve followed a trail of blood and feathers into a field, trying to locate the spot where a predator finished off his victim.

Several years back, when we were living in Illinois, our farm was separated from a small housing development by about a mile of open fields. One morning, while driving along the road running in front of that development, I noticed a new homemade sign. It read, “SLOW! BABY FOXES”, and had an arrow pointing down to a culvert where a mother fox had made a den. My first thought was: Whoever made this sign so doesn’t have livestock. My second thought was: I wonder how many of my chickens the mother fox will make off with to feed these babies. My third thought was: I wonder how many of my chickens these babies will make off with once they grow up.

Fortunately, we haven’t been hit with predator strikes any time recently. But I did spot a raccoon in a large tree across the street a couple of nights ago, peering across at our farm, so I suppose it’s just a matter of time. (I didn’t have a clean shot at him, and he wasn’t on our property anyway.) And while Homeschooled Farm Girl and I were out on a long bicycle ride this weekend, we saw a mother raccoon with six little ones run across the road in front of us. I made a mental note to re-bait and re-set our traps once I got home.

Needless to say, I got a smile out of this article that I recently stumbled across:

A man was biking to work one day when by the side of the road he noticed a poor fox that lay dying. Here is his account of what transpired:

I’m sure the person who posted it thought it was heartwarming. The overwhelming majority of people who commented on it certainly did. I’m also confident that few — if any — of them raise livestock.

And I suppose on one level this is a heartwarming story — but don’t blame me for being conflicted. I’m just hoping the fox in question gets to live out the rest of his days being cared for in a very secure zoo or other wildlife facility. Far from my farm.

Chickens: Ten Weeks Later

Been awhile since I’ve posted, but spring is a crazy busy time on the farm. Butchering the meat chickens has been my biggest job lately, and we’re finally down to the last handful. I find it’s best to butcher no fewer than four and no more than six meat chickens per day. Fewer than that, and it’s hardly worth the time it takes to set everything up, clean / sterilize the eviscerating table, etc. More than that, the scalding water begins to get too cold, my shoulders begin aching, and the flies really start to swarm.

I butcher the biggest chickens first, starting at about eight weeks of age. Most of them are males. After clearing them out, the pens become more spacious for the remaining birds — and the females in particular have the chance to reach more of their growth potential. I don’t weigh the fully-butchered birds, but each one gives us plenty of meat. Enough for our family and two guests, or enough for our family plus leftovers.

In case you’re wondering why virtually everyone raises some version of Cornish Cross chickens for meat, and uses other breeds pretty much exclusively for eggs, here’s a good picture of the size difference after ten weeks between a meat chicken and an egg chicken. I don’t need to tell you which is which:

Here’s another look inside the pen:

In the past, I would simply leave each butchered bird whole and freeze it that way. That’s fine if you intend to roast each bird whole, which we used to do. But as time went on, we found we much preferred cooking the chickens in pieces (whether on the grill, or in some other way). Also, a cut-up chicken takes up a lot less room in the freezer than a whole chicken. Bottom line is, I’m now cutting each bird up into pieces as I butcher it. All the pieces go in a big pile as I work, and then I sort them at the end. In each gallon-sized freezer bag, I put: two drumsticks, two thighs, two wings, and two breasts. I tend to skin the breasts, but leave the skin on the other pieces. All the remaining carcases (and necks, and feet) go into a really large turkey-sized freezer bag, to be used later for soup (one big bag of carcass scraps makes one pot of soup). Then I take all the hearts and livers and put them in their own small package. It’s taken years to settle on this approach, and for all I know I may refine it further next year, but for now it’s perfect.

And freshly-butchered-and-grilled chicken sure tastes perfect. This was our Memorial Day dinner:

So, I should finish up butchering the last of the chickens in the next couple of days. Then we’ll turn the egg pullets loose in the barn (they should begin laying this fall). And it’ll be “mission accomplished” for the chicken tractors in the garden. (Fortunately, we didn’t lose a single bird to predators.) Mrs. Yeoman Farmer will be able to plant her squashes very soon.

Note in the pictures above just how thick the grass is inside the pen. That’s what it looks like when the pen is first moved to a new patch of ground. Now see what the ground looks like that they’ve already gone over (this view is looking north; our hay field is the long grass just beyond the garden fence):

No wonder it’s called a “tractor” system. Here’s another shot, looking the other direction, showing the other pen:

Just imagine how great those squashes will grow in this nice rich soil. Squash soup and roast chicken…now there’s a combo for this fall.